Sumac. That one word strikes fear in people as most automatically think of poison sumac. There are actually several different kinds of sumac - most of which are not poisonous. The predominant one around here is Smooth Sumac - a shrub or small tree that grows anywhere from 3 to 15 feet tall in fields, along the edges of woods, and abandoned lots. It is a pioneer plant meaning it is one of the first plants to come up in a field before trees start to crowd them out. During the early summer time the plant starts making a greenish-yellow conical flower head that all kinds of bees love. The flowers produce small, red berries with tiny hairs all over them, and eventually the red berries will develop a white coating which is ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C. These tart little nutritious berries were a favorite ingredient for a type of Native American beverage. In the fall the leaves turn a brilliant red color, and in the winter smooth sumac is an important wintertime food source for many wildlife species.
In contrast, Poison Sumac grows in bushy and swampy areas. The flower head hangs down like grapes. So as long as the flower head grows upright you are safe from the poisonous variant of sumac.
Smooth sumac growing along the edge of woods.
You can see the ascorbic acid all over the red berries.